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T-Mobile's hiptop gets hipper

T-Mobile unveils the Sidekick II PV-100, a complete redesign of the "hiptop" phone popular with instant messaging teens. Review by Gary Krakow, MSNBC.
Danger / T-Mobile

If you've never heard of the Sidekick phone, also known as a "hiptop," you probably don't spend that much time around teenagers. I usually don't either, but at my niece's birthday party recently, I was amazed to see a whole bunch of young teens carrying their Sidekicks with them everywhere they went.

The device, designed by Danger and marketed by T-Mobile, is basically another cell phone combo, but one specifically designed for the rabid text messager. The screen swivels open and there’s a QWERTY keyboard for typing.

Today, T-Mobile is unveiling the Sidekick II PV-100. It’s actually the third device in the series (the first had a black and white screen, the most recent has a color one) but they can get away with the new name because Danger has pulled off a complete redesign: The new Sidekick is improved in almost every way possible.

The device is thinner than ever, 5.1 by 2.6 by 0.9 inches, and it weighs just 6.5 ounces. It’s also a little longer and wider than before thanks to a new two-way cellular radio and antenna inside for a better phone call experience. (As with all T-Mobile phones, the Sidekick II uses GSM/GPRS technology.)

A slew of new buttons on the outside make the Sidekick II easier to navigate than the older model.  Plus, in addition to AOL’s AIM you now have the choice of Yahoo messaging.  You can save up to 130 SMS messages on the device and you can create and send vCards to share contact information with your friends and foes alike.

Also new with this model is a 640 by 480 pixel camera integrated inside the Sidekick instead of added on as a plug-in module.  And you can set the device up to vibrate when you get a message or call, so you’re the only one who knows what’s going on. (Useful for text messaging during French class, I'm guessing.)

Battery life has also been improved; a single charge gives you up to 4 1/2 hours of talk time.  I was able to get two days on a single charge while making a few calls and being connected to AOL messaging the entire time.

I also feel it’s my duty to mention there’s now a speakerphone inside.  I know this because everyone I spoke to about the phone asked “Have you tried the speakerphone?”  I’m happy to report that I have –- and it’s terrific. The quality of the phone calls is better than I remember, as well.

The only negative I can find with the Sidekick II is the shape of the device:  It’s still shaped like a bar of soap. Only now it’s a little less like a hand-soap bar and a little more bath-sized. I find making or receiving a phone call still a little awkward, but at least now there’s a visible keypad built-in to the keyboard to make things easier.

T-Mobile says the device will retail for $299.99 when they begin to sell it this fall. In addition to the phone plan of your choice, T-Mobile's data plan will cost $20 a month. For that you get unlimited data usage for instant messaging, Web surfing and e-mailing. And there’s good news for current T-Mobile Sidekick customers: You will get a chance be one of the first to upgrade to the new device at a special price.

If you cherish the Sidekick II for its data capabilities there’s even better news. Intellisync has been approved to be released on the Sidekick platform.  That means users will be able to pay a one-time fee, download the PIM-sync application onto their PC and synchronize with Microsoft Outlook Calendar, Contacts and To Do lists.

With that kind of ability, the Sidekick could become a favorite business tool for the parents of those teenage hiptoppers.